I know very little about Namu. My friend Colette Henneghan mentioned Namu soon after we starting planning the Great Bear Swim last year. She pointed me to a video she had worked on for Pacific Wild with April Bencze. Like Ocean Falls, the place where we started last year’s swim, Namu is an “abandoned ghost town”.
Namu is within the traditional territory of the Heiltsuk First Nation on British Columbia`s west coast. The town is located approximately 40 km south of Bella Bella and 150 kilometers north of the northern tip of Vancouver Island. It sits just off the mainland.
There is evidence of human activity dating back between 10,000 and 11,000 years. A stone fish trap at the mouth of the Namu River serves as a visible reminder of a prehistoric occupation of Namu that could date back to those early times. Heiltsuk archaeologist Xanius, Elroy White teaches us about the stone fish trap in this video.
In more recent times (1893) a salmon cannery was established by the Robert Draney family and soon after (1909) a sawmill was built to provide lumber to the cannery. In 1928 British Columbia Packers Ltd. took over cannery operations.
Between 1930 and the early 1980’s 400 cannery workers, fish processors, maintenance personnel and their families lived in Namu. There was enough of a community that Namu required a four roomed schoolhouse for the workers’ children. The town included processing facilities, large two-storey bunkhouses, family cottages for employees, an oil dock, an electric power plant, a fresh water supply, recreation and mess halls, and a system of boardwalks providing access to the various structures.
In the early 1990’s, B.C. Packers sold Namu to David Milne, Namu Properties Ltd. who unsuccessfully attempted to establish a resort at the town site. The town is now slowly crumbling into the Pacific and has become an environmental threat. There are decaying buildings with asbestos, fuel tanks laying on rotting floors, old batteries and engine parts falling out of rotting sheds – all of this spilling into the water below. More to come….